Cassandra Leveille

I took Asma’s course, “Unlearning Eurocentrism” in the fall semester of my senior year of college in 2010. I remember the class being really small (<10 students) and us, sitting in a semicircle in either Smiddy Hall or the CSCRE building at the furthest end of campus.  The class was a room on the first floor, with a big window facing out so you could see the campus and students rushing to Smiddy or Dilingham. There was a lot of light. I’d just come back from a summer internship in Washington, D.C., shaken by a traumatic event that happened in my immediate family, but also starting to seek a path to self-definition.

The first time I sat with Asma for office hours, she told me, “In class, you were really quiet, almost forgettable, but when I read your writing, it was like you smacked me in the face! It was incredible!” This statement deeply informed my relationship with Asma as she helped me excavate my own voice and join the disconnect between my body and mind.

I took this course as I was developing a feminist politics, and it came into my life at just the right time. In Unlearning Eurocentrism I encountered the fundamental text Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde for the first time and read “Uses of the Erotic.” In conjunction with my other coursework I was taking that semester, including a reparations course in the politics department, and doing sound work on my voice with a professor in the theatre department, I started to realize just how deeply fractured the disconnect between my body and mind was, and I started to take the initial steps towards coming back to my body. This is work I continue to do daily.   

This course made me think about history in a different way. We read texts that were deeply critical of traditional historical frames (“just world theory,” for one) that prioritize Great White Men as the primary and most important historical actors. By reading perspectives from the Global South, I continued to complicate my understanding of what being a U.S.-ian means, as well as complicate my understanding of U.S.-ian mythologies around the “Third World” and who those stories serve. Asma’s practice of Muslim feminisms made me consider the Catholic Left movement of the 1960s, liberation theology, and excavating the histories of pushback against the Religious Right’s messaging, as well as other fundamentalist readings of Abrahamic religions.   

What stayed with me the most was Asma’s willingness to build a relationship with me, illuminate my strengths, and identify areas I could work on to become most myself – so the person who held such strong, passionate views on paper could match what I projected on the outside world. I appreciated her willingness to remain in touch with me, to hold my grief and trauma as I changed socioeconomic classes after I graduated, and her continued trust in me. I owe a great deal of my personal development to her.

Also, I finally did change my e-mail address 🙂

—Cassandra Leveille